ORCA 20 Qt Cooler Review: Does this Whale Swim?

An American-made tank

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by  Cooler Bill Barton | Last Updated: 

The ORCA 20 Qt cooler is made in the USA, but does that make it better than the competition? Well, the answer isn’t so simple.

In this ORCA 20 Qt review, we dive into the details of this cooler and compare it to some of the other most popular brands in the space so you can decide which hard cooler is right for you.

USA-made goodness
76
VALUE
7
score
CAPACITY
7
score
INSULATION
8
score
DURABILITY
10
score
EASE OF USE
5
score
PORTABILITY
6
score
FEATURES
8
score
Pros:
  • The stainless steel bar handle is huge—there’s no way this thing is breaking or bending
  • The cargo pouch on the back is extremely convenient
  • It’s made in the USA (Ohio to be specific)
Cons:
  • The handle can sometimes pop out—it’s easy to pop in, but it can be annoying at times
  • It’s very heavy, even when empty

It’s almost the weekend, and you get that itchy feeling like you can’t wait to pack up the trunk and head out—know that feeling? 

I live for that feeling. 

Whether it’s a day trip or you’re packing for a week-long camping excursion, having the right cooler on hand is a must. 

I bought the ORCA 20 Qt to test it out, and I also picked up small hard-sided coolers from YETI, RTIC, and Igloo to see how ORCA stacks up. 

In this ORCA 20 Qt cooler review, you’ll learn what I like about this little beast, what bugs me about it, and—spoiler alert—which cooler I think is a better choice for your money. 

ORCA 20 Qt Overview

The ORCA 20 Qt is the brand’s smallest hard cooler. ORCA also makes a 26 Qt, 35 Qt, 40 Qt, and several larger-capacity coolers as well. 

While 20 quart coolers seem pretty sizable from the exterior, they actually don’t carry too much in practice. If you’re not packing too many perishables, a 20 quart cooler is solid for an overnight or weekend camping trip. 

But if you’re traveling with more than two people, or you want to pack all your meals for a weekend and have some room left over for cans, I recommend a 40 quart cooler.

At the time of writing, the ORCA 20 Qt comes in 11 different colors. Personally, I’d steer away from the darker colored ORCA’s as the surface of the Navy, Charcoal, and Black coolers can reach temperatures over 170 degrees if left in the hot sun. Imagine sitting on that!

Regarding price, compared to the other major brands in the rotomolded cooler space (YETI, RTIC, Pelican), ORCA is right in the middle. It’s less expensive than YETI, but more expensive than RTIC. 

My ORCA sitting next to my other 20-25 quart coolers

For a TL;DR, or quick answer on my thoughts: the RTIC 20 Qt is the one 20-25 qt cooler I’d buy again. While the YETI Roadie 24 is technically the best from an insulation standpoint, I don’t know that it’s worth the added 60% cost. 

But if you’re on a strict budget, you may want to check out the Igloo BMX 25. It’s an ugly little beast, and it’s not rotomolded, so it doesn’t have the same durability. But it insulates well (not as good as ORCA, but it does fine considering the price).

I’ll explain more in depth throughout, but if you’re looking for a tough cooler that has a rugged aesthetic, the RTIC 20 Qt offers the best value-for-money.

RTIC 20 Qt

All things considered, the RTIC 20 Qt is the best pick in the 20-25qt hard cooler category.

While the YETI Roadie 24 has more insulating power, I think the RTIC 20 is more than enough to keep your goods cold for a weekend and the value-for-money is phenomenal.

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But if USA-made is important to you, I found the ORCA and RTIC to be nearly identical in performance, so for an extra few bucks you get something made in America, and the ORCA has that cool cargo pouch, which is handy. 

ORCA 20 Qt Cooler

The ORCA 20 Qt cooler performed similarly on all the major tests as the RTIC 20 Qt. However, it's more expensive. For that reason, I'd choose the RTIC 20 Qt over the ORCA.

That said, the ORCA 20 does have a hefty metal bar and an extremely sturdy build, so if you're planning on giving your cooler an absolute beating, the extra few bucks might be a good investment.

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Things to Consider Before Buying the ORCA 20 Qt

20 quart coolers aren’t great for storing cans—I mainly use mine to pack a lunch or store food for camping. This is true for any cooler—not just ORCA—but if you load up a 20 quart cooler with 18 cans, you’re probably carrying around 30 pounds. If you’re carrying that weight any significant distance, it gets heavy fast. 

So before you invest in any cooler, it’s a good idea to consider what you’ll be using your cooler for. 20 quart coolers are best for overnighters and lunches, but they’re a bit limited for anything beyond that (but they make an awesome complement to a 40 quart cooler, which is how I mainly use mine).  

What kind of vehicle do you have? 

I have a small coup car and do a lot of solo camping, so a small cooler is perfect for me. But if you have a truck and can afford the extra cargo, you may want to upgrade to a bigger size. 

Why You Should Trust Me

Testing my RTIC, ORCA, and YETI coolers

I spent four days testing the ORCA 20 Qt thoroughly. I’ve also done extensive ice-retention tests on the YETI Roadie 24, RTIC 20 Qt, and Igloo BMX 25. 

I did all my tests under the same conditions: seven pounds of ice in each cooler, and all coolers in a temperature controlled room.

When testing, I never opened the lids of the coolers, and the tests were all recorded at the same time so the ambient temperature was consistent for each cooler. 

While this test doesn’t simulate how the ORCA will perform in real life, it does give a clear idea of which brand has the best insulation for their cooler. 

ORCA 20 Qt Cooler Review

Value

When I first started looking at coolers, I checked out YETI. You may have been the same. But then I saw the price of the YETI Roadie 24 and was a bit surprised. So I started looking into other brands. 

Rotomolded coolers like ORCA, YETI, and RTIC are much more expensive than other types, but they’re basically indestructible. So if you’re planning on having your cooler for decades, or bringing it on rugged adventures, then investing up front is a good idea. 

Value is subjective, but I’ll give you my thoughts and you can decide for yourself. The ORCA 20, when full price, is right in the middle between the YETI Roadie and the RTIC 20. In my insulation and ice retention tests, the ORCA and RTIC performed basically the same. 

The YETI Roadie 24 did the best, but not by so much that I feel the price hike is fully justified.

YETI Roadie 24

Compared to other hard-sided coolers in the same size category, the Roadie 24 has better insulation and it’s more practically easy to pack into your car and hit the road.

Plus, because it’s around three inches taller and three inches slimmer, it makes for a more convenient seat or table-top when camping.

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But the ORCA is made in the USA, and you might be willing to pay a little more for that. Also, the ORCA has that awesome cargo net in the back, which is really helpful when camping or going to the beach. 

If you’re really concerned about value for money, I recommend the Igloo BMX 25. It’s pretty ugly in my opinion, but it did well in my ice-retention tests and is significantly less expensive than YETI, ORCA, and RTIC. 

Of course, the ORCA 20 has a cool, rugged aesthetic that many other rotomolded cooler brands boast. Features like the bear-proof locks, huge stainless steel handle, and drain plug make this little cooler a versatile addition to your camping trip. 

ORCA 20 Qt Cooler

The ORCA 20 Qt cooler performed similarly on all the major tests as the RTIC 20 Qt. However, it's more expensive. For that reason, I'd choose the RTIC 20 Qt over the ORCA.

That said, the ORCA 20 does have a hefty metal bar and an extremely sturdy build, so if you're planning on giving your cooler an absolute beating, the extra few bucks might be a good investment.

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Capacity

The ORCA 20 holds 20 liquid quarts, but how much is that really?

Compared to the other 20 quart coolers I’ve tested, the ORCA 20 has the second worst space efficiency ratio—I get this number by dividing the number of cans a cooler holds by its liquid quart capacity. 

Interestingly, the RTIC 20 Qt holds 22 liquid quarts, so you’re able to fit a little more in. While ORCA says on its site that you can fit 18 cans in their 20 Qt, I was able to fit 20 in, which gives the cooler a 1:1 ratio of can storage to liquid capacity. 

The only cooler I tested that performed worse on this test is the YETI Roadie 24. That cooler isn’t great for storing beers. But it’s actually much better at storing food and bringing a variety of things you might need for a camping trip. 

How many cans does the ORCA 20 hold?

The ORCA 20 will carry up to 20 cans, and you can even add ice on top. Just be careful—20 cans in the ORCA 20 will weigh close to 40 pounds, which is difficult and awkward to car

question icon

The ORCA 20 is short and wide, which makes it a sturdy seat and it stows easily. You can load gear on top of it when packing your car or truck. It has similar dimensions to the RTIC 20 Qt, but is shorter and wider than the YETI Roadie 24, Igloo, and Pelican…

In terms of shape, I have preference for the YETI Roadie 24 (taller and thinner), which fits nicely into my trunk, but the ORCA takes up a little more room horizontally.

How much ice does the ORCA 20 hold?

The ORCA 20 Qt hard cooler can hold 22 pounds of ice, though you wouldn’t be able to carry anything else. I recommend buying a seven pound bag of ice if you want to keep the contents cold for an overnight or weekend trip.

question icon

Overall, the RTIC 20 Qt has the best storage capacity for a rotomolded 20 quart cooler, though it’s also the heaviest. The ORCA has a decent amount of storage, but falls a bit short in this category.

Insulation

Of the four small hard-sided coolers I tested, the ORCA came in 3rd for insulation, but it performed almost identically to the RTIC 20—the difference was so minor, the different readings could be due to a lack of instrument sensitivity rather than actual difference between the coolers. 

Both the ORCA 20 Qt and RTIC 20 Qt lose out to the YETI Roadie 24, though. Take a look at the graph below:

In my ice test (96 hours, 7 pounds of ice, no opening, no sunlight) the YETI Roadie 24 performed the best. By comparison, the RTIC came in second but was basically tied with the ORCA throughout, and the Igloo BMX 25 performed the worst. 

The crucial milestones I look at are when the contents of the cooler hit 40 degrees and 50 degrees. 40 degrees is the food safe limit, and 50 degrees is right around when beers start tasting “warm.” We like frosty beers. 

While the YETI Roadie 24 kept its contents below 40 degrees for 73 hours, the ORCA did the same for 70 hours. 

You can see the difference in insulation more clearly in the graph below (just hours 60-96):

So does three hours over three days matter that much to you? 

Technically speaking, the YETI Roadie 24 is the best. But in my experience, there’s no practical difference when you’re storing food in a rotomolded cooler—they’re all awesome at insulating. 

Durability

The ORCA 20 Qt is a total beast. Even among rotomolded coolers (which are basically indestructible to begin with). 

The handle on the ORCA is nearly twice the gauge-width as the stainless steel handle of the RTIC. Not that you’d ever bend or break the RTIC handle, but the ORCA handle makes the whole cooler look like an absolute tank. 

The handle of the ORCA 20 is massive compared to the RTIC 20

Rotomolded coolers are known for their sturdiness because there are no seams to crack. While I didn’t test the durability specifically, based on the feel of each, I think the ORCA 20 Qt is the most sturdy. 

One aspect of this durability is the rubber t-handles, which are very tight. They’re actually hard to latch, which is a big issue for me. But it gets a few points for durability. 

ORCA 20 Qt Cooler

The ORCA 20 Qt cooler performed similarly on all the major tests as the RTIC 20 Qt. However, it's more expensive. For that reason, I'd choose the RTIC 20 Qt over the ORCA.

That said, the ORCA 20 does have a hefty metal bar and an extremely sturdy build, so if you're planning on giving your cooler an absolute beating, the extra few bucks might be a good investment.

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Portability

The ORCA 20 Qt is heavy: 18 pounds when completely empty. Compare that to the 13 pound YETI and the 10 pound Igloo, and it’s clear that the ORCA is tough to carry around, especially when loaded up. 

The RTIC 20 is 19 pounds, which is even heavier, but comparable to ORCA. If you’re a dude carrying it solo, you can probably lug the ORCA a few feet around your campsite, but a 200 yard walk through hot sand is a totally different story. 

In terms of portability, the ORCA scores the lowest—even though the RTIC is heavier by a pound, it has a locking mechanism in its handle which keeps it in place and makes it a little easier to carry. 

Features

The ORCA 20 Qt has one feature that I absolutely love: the cargo net in the back. When I first got it, I didn’t think the net would make that much of a difference, but it’s so handy and helpful. 

When camping, it makes for a great place to put your knife, bottle caps, or even your phone so you don’t misplace it. I ended up using the cargo net all the time, and it’s unique to the ORCA—I haven’t seen this feature on any other brand. 

I also like the drain spigot on the side. While 20 quart coolers are usually small enough to tip and drain, it’s still easier to just unscrew the drain and let the water out. 

The ORCA has two holes for padlocks on either side, so you could fill your cooler with a delicious pot of honey and toss it to a bear and the bear would never get to it. 

For ice-retention and to make it leak-proof, the ORCA has a rubber gasket around the lid. The worst thing is finding out your cooler tipped over and the water soaked through the clothes packed in the trunk of your car. The ORCA is water-tight, so you never have to worry about that. 

The ORCA also has two rubber t-handles—these aren’t that great. Of the four coolers I tested, the ORCA was the most difficult to open and close because the rubber is thick and doesn’t flex as much as other brands. 

On the positive side, the handles basically never come undone accidentally. But on the negative side, your neck veins will pop out when you’re trying to close this thing. 

ORCA 20 Qt Accessories

While ORCA has accessories like seat pads, baskets, and ice blocks for their larger coolers, they don’t have many accessories for their 20 Qt cooler. 

You can get a separate plastic cup holder attachment, and another attachment for a fishing pole, which is awesome for shore and pier anglers. 

What do Other Reviewers Say?

Reviewers often mention they love that ORCA coolers are USA-made. ORCA is one of the few brands (and definitely the only brand I’ve tested) that’s made in the states, so if buying domestic products is important to you, then ORCA has you covered. 

Looking through forums, I saw that a few people had issues with their handles falling off, but ORCA has a lifetime warranty and I saw great things about their customer service.

ORCA 20 Qt Alternatives

RTIC 20 Qt

The RTIC 20 Qt is very close to the ORCA 20 Qtin quality and performance, and it’s less expensive. 

Of course, RTIC isn’t American-made. And it doesn’t have that sweet cargo net in the back. It has two drain-plugs (one is fine), and has a locking mechanism for the handle, which makes it easier to carry.

Also, the RTIC 20 can carry four more cans and actually has a liquid capacity of 22 quarts (instead of ORCA’s 20). 

Overall, the RTIC 20 Qt wins out as the best value-for-money pick in the 20-25 quart hard cooler category.  

RTIC 20 Qt

All things considered, the RTIC 20 Qt is the best pick in the 20-25qt hard cooler category.

While the YETI Roadie 24 has more insulating power, I think the RTIC 20 is more than enough to keep your goods cold for a weekend and the value-for-money is phenomenal.

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YETI Roadie 24

The YETI Roadie 24 is my overall top-quality pick, regardless of price. 

The Roadie 24 has the best insulating power, does a great job storing food, and is easy to carry because of its shape, lighter weight, and nylon handle. 

The only major negative for the Roadie 24 is that it’s not optimized for 12oz cans. It’s a great cooler if you’re bringing beers and food. But if you’re just looking for a beer cooler only, every other cooler is better. 

Of course, price may be a significant factor for you. Overall, I still recommend the RTIC 20 Qt as my top value-for-money cooler because I don’t think the boosts you get with the YETI Roadie 24 are worth that much extra money. 

YETI Roadie 24

Compared to other hard-sided coolers in the same size category, the Roadie 24 has better insulation and it’s more practically easy to pack into your car and hit the road.

Plus, because it’s around three inches taller and three inches slimmer, it makes for a more convenient seat or table-top when camping.

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Igloo BMX 25 Qt Cooler

The Igloo BMX 25 Qt cooler is my top budget pick in the 20-25 quart hard cooler category. 

On the positive side, it’s the largest of the small coolers and it’s very cost effective compared to other rotomolded coolers. It can easily tie down into your truck, it’s lightweight, and it can carry a lot of cans/food.

On the negative side, the exterior plastic isn’t nearly as sturdy as ORCA’s, and it’s also ugly. I’d think this cooler looks awesome if I still played in the dirt with my aluminum toy trucks, but I stopped doing that when I was six. Burn. 

But despite the Igloo doing the worst in my insulation tests, it still wasn’t that far off the mark, hitting 40 degrees at 68 hours (compared to ORCA’s 70 hours, and YETI’s 73 hours). 

Igloo BMX 25

It's not the prettiest cooler, but it gets the job done.

This is my top budget pick for the 20-25 qt cooler category because it's insulating power is quite good compared to brands that are double (and even triple) the price.

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My Thoughts Overall On the ORCA 20 Qt

What I Like

  • The ORCA 20 is the sturdiest of the coolers I tested.
  • ORCA makes their coolers in the USA.
  • The cargo pouch on the back is one of the most useful features I’ve seen on a cooler.

What I Don’t Like

  • At 18 pounds empty, the ORCA 20 Qt is heavy and can be difficult to carry.
  • The rubber t-handles are so thick and stiff, this cooler is relatively difficult to open and close (though once it’s closed, it won’t leak).

Who is the ORCA 20 Qt for?

If you want an American-made cooler that’ll last you for decades, then the ORCA 20 is the best cooler for you.

The Verdict

If I could only get one small hard-sided cooler (20-25 quart capacity), I’d choose the RTIC 20 Qt.

While I like my ORCA 20 Qt, and I absolutely love the cargo pouch in the back, I didn’t see enough of a difference in the performance to warrant the extra cost.

Of course, ORCA is made in the USA, so that could be plenty enough reason for you to want to spend a bit extra and support American-made products.

I was disappointed with how heavy the ORCA is (same is true for RTIC), but the difficulty I had with the rubber latches is the real difference-maker for me: it’s hard to get this open and closed with one hand. And that’s not true for the other brands I tried.

ORCA 20 Qt Cooler

The ORCA 20 Qt cooler performed similarly on all the major tests as the RTIC 20 Qt. However, it's more expensive. For that reason, I'd choose the RTIC 20 Qt over the ORCA.

That said, the ORCA 20 does have a hefty metal bar and an extremely sturdy build, so if you're planning on giving your cooler an absolute beating, the extra few bucks might be a good investment.

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RTIC 20 Qt

All things considered, the RTIC 20 Qt is the best pick in the 20-25qt hard cooler category.

While the YETI Roadie 24 has more insulating power, I think the RTIC 20 is more than enough to keep your goods cold for a weekend and the value-for-money is phenomenal.

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FAQs

Is ORCA as good as YETI?

ORCA coolers are comparable to YETI. In my tests, YETI performed better, but not by much. The fact that ORCA coolers are made in the USA and have a lifetime warranty (compared to YETI’s 5-year), might make ORCA a better brand for you.

What does ORCA cooler stand for?

ORCA stands for Outdoor Recreation Company of America.

Are ORCA coolers made in the USA?

Yes, ORCA coolers are made in the USA: specifically in Ohio, and they ship out from Tennessee.